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McAllen’s state legislation on Thursday, July 7, pose for news photographers following their presentations before the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on how the Valley made out during the five-month regular session of the Texas Legislature, which ended May 31, and the special session, which wrapped up in late June. “The $27 billion budget shortfall and the current political environment set the theme from the start and it was not pretty,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured second from left. “Still, aside the difficulties we faced, we were able to shine a positive light on several important issues.” As one example, the Texas Legislature approved almost $66 million in additional funding for border security, among some of the victories secured by South Texas state lawmakers. From left are: Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; Sen. Hinojosa; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission. See editorial later in this posting by Sen. Hinojosa on his view of the sessions’ negative and positive impact on the Valley.

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Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, June 23, welcomed Edinburg North High School student Felipe Gaitán, his family and his teacher to Washington, D.C. Felipe is the 1st Place winner of the 2011 Artistic Discovery Congressional Art Competition for Texas’ 15th Congressional District. He earned the top spot for his pencil drawing entitled Hey Good Looking. “It was a pleasure meeting Felipe and his family here in Washington, D.C.,” said Hinojosa. “He’s a fine young man and obviously a very talented artist. Our district will be very well represented here on Capitol Hill throughout the year.” The annual art competition, coordinated by members of the U.S. House of Representatives, takes all of the winning art work from throughout the country and displays them for one year as part of the national exhibition in the Cannon Tunnel of the U.S. House of Representatives, which leads to the U.S. Capitol building. For winning 1st Place, Felipe received a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, plus he and his family were flown to the nation’s capital. This is the Gaitáns’ family first visit to Washington, D.C., and the first time, for the children to fly on an airplane. High School students from throughout Texas’ District 15 submitted 26 entries for the annual competition. A total of 12 high schools from Harlingen to Three Rivers participated in the competition. Featured, from left: Lorenzo Gaitán (father); Christian Gaitán (brother); Felipe Gaitán (art winner); Elena Gaitán (mother); Congressman Hinojosa; Terry Viña (art teacher); and Rubén Gonzáles, Jr. (brother)

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A research and education park for the deep South Texas is becoming a reality now that the master planning process is well underway. Broaddus Planning of Austin expects to have the plan completed by Fall 2011, and gave a preview of the plan to regional stakeholders, including leaders with the University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College, during a reception at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 22. The park will be located on 400 acres of public and private land near the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone.  The driving force behind the park is a subcommittee comprised of affiliates of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI). Sixty business, education, economic development, industry and government partners form the initiative, which was launched as a result of a U.S. Department of Labor investment. NAAMREI partners are focused on transforming the region into a world leader for advanced and rapid response manufacturing. Featured during the June 22 update are, from left: Wanda Garza, executive director, NAAMREI; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president, South Texas College; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president, the University of Texas-Pan American; Rose Benavidez, vice-chair, STC Board of Trustees; Gary Gurwitz, chair, STC Board of Trustees, and Juan E. Mejía, chief academic officer, STC. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host Workforce Solutions at their next Business Luncheon, set for Thursday, July 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Edinburg Depot, located at 602 West University Drive. Topics being discussed will include: Workforce Solutions services and support to businesses; the do’s and don’ts of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); employing those with disabilities, and how Workforce Solutions can help businesses save money, support human resource needs; and hiring, pre-screening and training of employees. More information is available at the chamber’s website at http://www.Edinburg.com. Featured, from left: John Hershey, business development specialist, Workforce Solutions; Katherine Filut, disability program navigator, Workforce Solutions; Letty González, president, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Evana Vleck, marketing director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Sonia Quintero, deafness resource specialist, Texas Department of Assistive & Rehabilitative Services; and Víctor Martín de León, public information officer, Workforce Solutions.

Hobos around Edinburg are packing up and on the trail to the historic Edinburg Depot, the home of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. They are hopping on board to support the Depot Restoration Project and getting spiffed up to participate in the Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion, scheduled on Saturday, September 17 at the Edinburg Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive. “We are inviting all past presidents, board members, volunteers and the current chamber investors to join us in September as we host the Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion,” said Elva Jackson Garza, chairman of the Depot Restoration Committee. “This will be a very special event as it will bring civic and business leaders who were instrumental in the original renovation project that started in 1994. It’s time we come together again for a very important cause as we restore one of Edinburg’s most important treasures built in 1927.” Members of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Depot Restoration Committee, featured here promoting the event, are, from left: Vivian Martin, Maggie Kent, Flo Prater, Edna Peña, Letty González, Marty Martin and Elva Jackson Garza. See story later in this posting.

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McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, featured July 7 at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s legislative update, is criticizing the state’s Republican leadership for what he fears will be almost a $1 billion reduction in state funds for key programs and services, including public education and medical care for the poor, in deep South Texas. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you, as mayor of this city, as great as we have done in the past, there is a storm brewing out there,” Cortéz said. “When they tell me we’re not going to get almost a billion dollars of funds from the state to the Rio Grande Valley, if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. How do we make up a billion dollars in our economy?” See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose legislative district also includes Starr County, recently marked her 47,550th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate. Featured here earlier this year presiding over the Texas Senate, her unique, career-long 100 percent voting record extends from January, 1987, when she first took office.  “Every vote I cast in the Texas Senate reflects my commitment to balance the needs of my Senate District 21 constituents with those of our great state,” Zaffirini said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference, especially for the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities.” See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg’s May 2011 retail economy registers best improvement among key Valley cities

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy in May 2011, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up 9.76 percent over the same month last year – the best showing among the Valley’s largest communities.

In May 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,194,491.73 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,088,198.03 in local sales taxes produced in May 2010.

The city’s latest economic barometer also was better than the statewide average of 7.2 percent, and better than the 3.68 percent average of all cities in Hidalgo County.

McAllen, the retail sales leader for the Valley, showed a 2.11 percent improvement in May compared with the same month in 2010, while Brownsville – which has the most population of all Valley cities – reported a 2.78 percent jump in retail sales activities for May 2011 compared with May 2010, according to the state comptroller.

Harlingen, which is ranked fourth in city population in the Valley behind Brownsville, McAllen, and Edinburg, respectively, was up 3.86 percent in May 2011 over the same month last year.

Among the other larger communities in Hidalgo County, Pharr showed a 4.94 percent improvement, Mission reported a 0.70 percent increase, while Weslaco was up 1.35 percent in May 2011 compared with May 2010.

For the first five months of 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy is up 11.67 percent over the same period in 2010, the state comptroller’s office reported.

Edinburg’s continuing positive showing, documented by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also represents the seventh consecutive month that the city’s retail economy showed improvements over those same months the year before, said Pedro Salazar, the executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC).

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

“Edinburg’s retail economy is powered by a number of factors, including an increasing number of high-quality retail shopping venues, new and upcoming commercial construction projects, and population growth,” said Salazar. “We received more good news a couple of weeks ago, when the University of Texas-Pan American announced that the Texas Legislature approved about $23 million in state financial aid grants to students for the coming year. A lot of that money gets spent in Edinburg’s stores and restaurants.”

The state is expected to approve allocating approximately $23.2 million to UTPA for the TEXAS (Toward Excellence, Access and Success) Grants for the coming school year, which will allow the university to provide financial aid to about 3,000 returning students and roughly 1,500 new students.

Maximus, Inc. to bring 400 new jobs

In a separate but also positive economic development for the city, in early July, Maximus, Inc, a leading provider of government services worldwide, announced that it plans to open a new customer contact center in Edinburg this August.

According to company officials, the planned Edinburg center is part of the Maximus, Inc.’s contract with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). It will serve to help Texans seeking HHSC services such as Medicaid, SNAP food benefits and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The new facility is expected to employ up to 400 people by the end of 2012 and will be located in the Renaissance Industrial Park in Edinburg, which was created in the late 1990s by the EEDC. This location will be the fourth site the company operates as part of its contract with Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Other major retail activities continue to take place this summer in the three-time All-America City, including demolition work that is well underway of numerous, but aged, lodging and retail structures that had been located on the south side of West University Drive, facing the front of University of Texas-Pan American.

New residential/retail centers to serve UT-Pan American

The transformation will feature the establishment of two main retail complexes, known as University Plaza, totaling 45,000-square feet. As part of that new development, plans call for the construction of an upscale, 108-unit apartment complex that will provide residential housing to faculty and students of the largest public university south of San Antonio.  The apartment complex will be located immediately behind University Plaza.

Access to University Plaza and the upscale residential complex also will be greatly improved as a result of the planned installation of a third system of traffic signals for West University Drive, the five-lane thoroughfare that handles the majority of traffic for UT-Pan American.

That new traffic signal system will significantly improve access, on a daily basis, for hundreds, if not thousands, of pedestrians and motorists, as well as dramatically improve the quality and selection of retail, restaurant, and residential options for the entire community.

An additional key transportation improvement for University Plaza will involve the construction of Beta Drive, a new street that will connect the residential complex and University Plaza to UT-Pan American, and that benefit from the protection of the new traffic signals systems at West University Drive.

Proven track record of economic growth

Edinburg’s May 2011 retail economy showing is part of a continuing positive trend documented by the state comptroller of public accounts.

In April 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,181,367.28 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,124,172.20 in local sales taxes reported in April 2010.

In March 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,672,045.16 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,425,614.92 in local sales taxes reported in March 2010 – an improvement of 17.28 percent.

In February 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,127,941.23 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,069,450.28 in local sales taxes reported in February 2010, reflecting a 5.46 percent improvement.

In January 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,313,889.30 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,079,226.86 in local sales taxes reported in January 2010 – a 21.74 percent improvement.

In December 2010 – the crucial holiday shopping period – Edinburg set a record for the amount of local monthly sales taxes collected – $1,724,220.34 – which was an 11.2 percent improvement over the same month in 2009, when $1,550,742.56 in local sales taxes were collected, according to the state comptroller’s office.

In November 2010, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,137,280.35 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,035,902.80 in local sales taxes reported in November 2000 – for about a 10 percent improvement.

Statewide retail economic activities

Also according to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs:

Under the reporting system used by her office, the local and state sales taxes generated on retail sales in May 2011 were reported to the state comptroller’s office in June. On Monday, July 11, the state comptroller’s office sent back the local sales tax portion – called a rebate – to the cities in which the retail sales were made.

Combs said that state sales tax revenue in May was $1.72 billion, up 7.2 percent compared to May 2010.

“The state’s sales tax revenue has now increased for 15 months in a row,” said Combs. “Strong business spending boosted sales tax revenue in sectors such as the oil and gas industry and manufacturing, and the retail sector continued to show growth.”

On July 11, Combs was scheduled to send sales tax allocations from the May retail sales, that produced $474.5 million in sales tax revenues, to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts, up 7.2 percent compared to May.

Texas cities will receive $315.5 million, up 6.2 percent compared to sales taxes generated in May 2010. So far this calendar year, city sales tax allocations are up 6.3 percent compared to the same time period last year. Texas counties can anticipate sales tax payments of $29.7 million generated in May 2011, up 10 percent compared to last May. So far this year, sales tax allocations to counties are running 12.4 percent ahead of this point in 2010.

Combs will send $20.8 million to 177 special purpose taxing districts, up 13.3 percent compared to the sales tax revenue generated in May 2010. Ten local transit systems will get $108.3 million in sales tax allocations, up 8.2 percent compared to a year ago.

For details of May sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the Comptroller’s Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html.

The Comptroller’s next sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, August 12.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Mark S. Peña. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Mayor García praises South Texans, TYC for protecting Evins state facility from closure

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg, which about three months ago was in danger of being closed down due to ongoing major state budget cuts, has survived that threat and will continue to have positive impacts on the city’s and region’s economic, public safety, and youth justice systems, says Mayor Richard García.

“In today’s reality of billions of dollars in Texas state budget cuts and thousands of employee layoffs, a job saved is a job created,” said García. “By remaining open, the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg will continue to provide almost 400 direct and indirect jobs and an estimated $18 million annual economic impact for our city and surrounding region.”

García also is the president of the Board of Directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The TYC currently allocates staffing of 285 employees at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center, according to Mary Wood, Director of Human Resources for the Texas Youth Commission state headquarters in Austin.

The Evins Regional Juvenile Center (ERJC), located in the northern portion of the city at 3801 East Monte Cristo Road, is a facility of the Texas Youth Commission, the agency charged with administering the state’s correctional facilities for delinquent youth, according to its website.

The main focus at Evins Regional Juvenile Center is on public protection through rehabilitation, the agency website adds. Youth are encouraged to earn a GED and some are in the program long enough to obtain a regular high school diploma. The facility’s educational department also offers career and technology training in building trades, computer applications and technology programs.

Those important missions will continue following action in Austin on June 3 by the seven-member governing board of the Texas Youth Commission, which includes 445th District Court Judge Rolando Olvera of Brownsville.

During that public session, the TYC board of directors voted to keep open the Evins Regional Juvenile Center, along with five other juvenile rehabilitation complexes throughout Texas, although they regretfully  ordered the the closure of three state juvenile facilities located in Beaumont, Crockett and Brownwood. That decision will affect the placement of approximately 400 youth and 700 staff currently at those facilities.

“Facility closures are necessary because appropriations for TYC for the FY 2012-13 biennium will be reduced by $116.9 million,” Cherie Townsend, TYC executive director, explained in a memorandum posted on the TYC website. “The Legislature had to reduce state appropriations to all state agencies to produce a balanced budget, but TYC experienced additional reductions based on youth population declines that are the result of previous legislative reforms and lower juvenile crime rates.”

The Edinburg mayor expressed his appreciation to the TYC governing board, but he extended special praise to the Evins employees and many of its community support groups for “helping save the day when they showed up as an impressive, united front” during a Saturday, April 2 public hearing, held at the University of Texas-Pan American, when the fate of Evins was uncertain.

“The Edinburg City Council and I made sure that our unwavering support for keeping Evins operating was made clear to the TYC top leadership,” said García. “But nothing was as significant as the substantial, and often dramatic, testimony providing by Evins’ own outstanding professionals, along with the tremendous endorsements provided by area community, business, and faith-based groups. Since Evins will continue to serve the more than one million residents in deep South Texas, it will continue helping our region on many different levels.”

Ramiro Garza, Edinburg’s city manager, and Pedro Salazar, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, were among the almost two dozen witnesses who testified at the April 2 public hearing on behalf of the Evins Juvenile Regional Center. Dozens more residents were in the audience at that public hearing.

Garcia also gave credit to the region’s state legislative delegation, which had worked hard to successfully shield the multi-million dollar complex from closure.

Other individuals who appeared in support and/or testified at the April 2 meeting in Edinburg, listed in alphabetic order, included:

  • A.Q. (full name not provided), a former youth at Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Raúl Arredondo, president of the Evins Volunteer Council;
  • Yolanda Chapa, chief-of-staff, Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García;
  • R0lando Mitch Chávez, principal, Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Fela Cruz, director of nurses, Evins Regional Juvenile Center
  • David A. Díaz, representing Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen;
  • Ignacio Estorga, a volunteer at Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Carolyn Faires, My Brother’s Keeper ministry, First Baptist Church, Edinburg;
  • Kenny Faires, My Brother’s Keeper ministry, First Baptist Church, Edinburg;
  • Roberto Flores, instructor, Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Denise Gadino,  licensed specialist school psychologist, Evins Regional Juvenile Center
  • Mario Garza;
  • Father Alfonzo Guevara of the Catholic Diocese  of Brownsville;
  • Judge María Socorro Leos, Title 4-D Associate Judge for Child Support, Edinburg (Hidalgo County);
  • Pete Martínez, director of security, Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Jorge Montaño, juvenile corrections officer 4, Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Rosy Moreno, youth rights specialist grievance coordinator, Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Father Bernard Nwaokeleme, chaplin, Evins Regional Juvenile Center;
  • Cynthia Pacheco, on behalf of Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco;
  • Cynthia Ríos, on behalf of Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission;
  • Johnny Rodríguez, chairman of the board of directors, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce;
  • Víctor Rodríguez, McAllen chief of police; and
  • Blanca Soto, administrative assistant for accounting, Evins Regional Juvenile Center.

The Evans Regional Juvenile Center is located on a 100-acre site, with 50 acres of that property enclosed by a high-security fence.

Inside that complex are numerous structures, including four dormitories, two educational buildings, a security building, a vocational building, a cafeteria, a warehouse, a training building, a gymnasium, a weight room, a medical building, and an administrative building.

The Evins Regional Juvenile Center serves only boys, ages 14 through 19 years of age, and can house 176 youths. About 90 percent of the youths at the facility come from the South Texas region, bordered by San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.

In May, the Texas Legislature approved a bill by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, which will consolidate the Texas Youth Commission with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, as part of the state’s goal to save up to $150 milli0n over the next two years as a result of that merger.

That legislation, Senate Bill 653, was jointly authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Gov. Rick Perry signed SB 653 into law on May 19. The law goes into effect on September 1.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Mark S. Peña. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on towww.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Despite state budget woes, Valley did register key funding victories for border security, water programs, and job development

By SEN. JUAN “CHUY” HINOJOSA

This has been one of the toughest sessions of which I have been a part.

The $27 billion budget shortfall and the current political environment set the theme from the start and it was not pretty. Still, aside the difficulties we faced we were able to shine a positive light on several important issues.

Our border security package includes $800,000 for tactical vessels, $9 million for a high altitude surveillance aircraft, $56 million for a nine-hour work day for DPS troopers and $266,667 for defensive weapons. We effectively expanded the tools our law enforcement agents have at their disposal to make our communities safer and secure our borders.

The Dropout Recovery Program under Senate Bill 975 will help keep children in school, put them on a track to college and strengthen the economic development potential of our state. I’ve always said education is the best equalizer, but it’s also one of the strongest economic engines I know. This program is a proven tool that will help us pave a path to success for young Texans.

We secured $5 million for the Jobs and Education for Texans Program, which is designed to retrain hardworking Texans so they can rejoin the workforce. This propels the state economy and assures Texans can have good jobs and provide for their families.

The Legislature also approved my Senate Joint Resolution 4, which will give Texans the opportunity to authorize $6 billion in revolving water bonds to help cities, counties and water providers fund water projects and infrastructure more cheaply than they could on their own. The bottom line is we are in a drought, and the only way Texas will survive is by investing in infrastructure to conserve and maximize its water resources.

We may have lost some ground, but there are small victories that make all the pain and effort worthwhile. From the initial proposal to cut $10 billion from education, we were able to restore $5.7 billion. We made money available to our children’s hospitals, secured money for the Corpus Christi A&M Engineering program, the University of Texas Pan American teaching site in McAllen, kept the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs afloat and secured $19.6 million for Communities in Schools.

Like I said before, this was an extremely difficult session, but I learned as a Marine in Vietnam to be flexible, to take every day as it comes – life is a process. The Legislature is the same way, you win some, you lose some. But at the end of the day, you do your best and get the job done.

Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat, represents Senate District 20 in the Texas Legislature.

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McAllen Mayor Cortéz fears state budget cuts will be tough economic storm for South Texas

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

While praising the Valley’s state legislative delegation for fighting what eventually turned out to be $15 billion in state budget cuts, McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz is criticizing the state’s Republican leadership for what he fears will be almost a $1 billion reduction in state funds for key programs and services, including public education and medical care for the poor, in deep South Texas.

“Today, I’m here with a broken heart, because what we wanted to accomplish in Austin didn’t matter to me, it mattered to you,” Cortéz told business, community, and political leaders at the July 7 legislative update at the McAllen Country Club hosted by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, made their respective presentations following the mayor’s comments, sharing his concerns for the pending impact of the state budget cuts, which begin in earnest on September 1.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you, as mayor of this city, as great as we have done in the past, there is a storm brewing out there,” Cortéz said. “When they tell me we’re not going to get almost a billion dollars of funds from the state to the Rio Grande Valley, if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. How do we make up a billion dollars in our economy?”

The mayor urged the business community in the Valley to withhold any financial help to any political candidates who supported the state budget cuts.

“The power lies with all of you here today. We have to tell our elected officials what is appropriate and what is not appropriate,” he proclaimed. “We can’t stand behind and say, ‘Okay, I don’t agree with you, but here’s my check, and, you know, I hope next time, you’re going to be with me’. We have to draw the line quickly, because if not, the future does not look good.”

City Commissioner Marcus Barrera, who along with Cortéz helped welcome the state lawmakers to the event, said McAllen business leaders can also protect their own best interests by making it easier for their employees to cast their ballots.

“The voting numbers in McAllen, they’re abysmal,” said Barrera. “I just want to implore every one of you, to make sure – you’ve got offices, you’ve got employees – encourage them to get out and vote. Give them the time off to go and vote in our elections.”

Barrera lamented that, at least in McAllen, statewide legislative and other political leaders follow and exploit voter apathy in the City of Palms.

“One of the problems that we have as a city and as a region is just the voting numbers,” Barrera said. “They know that people aren’t going to turn out in McAllen. Like I keep saying, the City of Weslaco, which has a fraction of our population of McAllen, almost outvoted us in the last (municipal) elections.”

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Lt. Governor Dewhurst applauds Texas Legislature for successful 82nd session

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, a Republican is praising legislators for their distinguished service and thanked them for their hard work in shaping a historic legislative session, which ended with a special session in late June.

“I want to congratulate all of our Members, Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and Governor (Rick) Perry (a Republican) on one of the most conservative sessions in Texas history,” said Dewhurst. “I have enjoyed working together to make Texas an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

“When you consider the challenges we faced ? particularly with the budget ? it’s remarkable that we were able to get so much done,” Dewhurst added. “We have proven once again there is no limit to what we can accomplish when we put Texans first.”

Dewhurst said some of the key accomplishments during the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature include:

  • Balancing the budget without raising taxes;
  • Reducing current state spending by almost $15 billion;
  • Saving nearly $6.5 billion in our Rainy Day Fund;
  • Increasing state funding for public schools by almost $4 billion;
  • Passing a historic “Loser Pays” tort reform law to reduce frivolous lawsuits;
  • Passing landmark, free market initiatives to improve health care and reduce costs;
  • Enacting a strong Voter ID law to protect the integrity of our elections;
  • Providing pregnant women the opportunity to see a sonogram of their unborn child;
  • Protecting the Second Amendment rights of Texas gun owners;
  • Redrawing Texas House, Senate and Congressional Districts for the next decade;
  • Creating an Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) for school districts;
  • Providing flexibility for school districts with their management and operation; and
  • Reforming Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) to limit lawsuit abuse and protect

coastal property owners.

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Master planning to begin in Fall 2011 for rapid response manufacturing complex in McAllen

By JENNY CUMMINGS

A research and education park for the Rio South Texas region is becoming a reality now that the master planning process is well underway.  Broaddus Planning of Austin expects to have the plan completed by Fall 2011, and gave a preview of the plan to regional stakeholders during a reception at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 22.

The park will be located on 400 acres of public and private land near the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone.

The driving force behind the park is a subcommittee comprised of affiliates of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI). Sixty business, education, economic development, industry and government partners form the initiative, which was launched as a result of a U.S. Department of Labor investment. NAAMREI partners are focused on transforming the region into a world leader for advanced and rapid response manufacturing.

“There are more than 200 manufacturing companies in the McAllen area alone,” said Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and chair of the subcommittee that hired Broaddus Planning.  “Another 250 companies are located in Reynosa.”

With the region becoming the North American hub for advanced manufacturing, Patridge said NAAMREI partners recognized the need for a research and education park.

“Today’s manufacturing product life cycle must respond rapidly to the needs of the customer,” he explained. “By having research and development facilities close by, our companies will be able to speed up the time it takes to go from concept to consumer.”

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, working with MEDC and the City of McAllen, championed the efforts to secure funding for the park’s master plan. The city also donated 80 acres of land for the park.

The proposed park has a lot going for it even before groundbreaking.

“We have 20,000 to 30,000 acres of business, entertainment, housing and other amenities already built around the park site,” Patridge said.

It’s close to the McAllen Convention Center complex, downtown McAllen, McAllen Miller International Airport, and numerous hotels, restaurants and residential communities. The 6,000-acre Sharyland Plantation, a master planned community with schools, businesses, restaurants and homes, is adjacent to the site. The South Texas College (STC) Technology Campus, home of NAAMREI’s corporate headquarters, is also next to the park site.

South Texas College, The University of Texas-Pan American and Region One Education Service Center are the lead education agencies. Area school districts and colleges are already recruiting and training the skilled workforce needed for the region’s advanced manufacturing infrastructure.

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Senator Zaffirini casts 47,550th consecutive vote as Texas lawmaker

By WILL KRUEGER

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose legislative district also includes Starr County, recently marked her 47,550th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate.

Her unique, career-long 100 percent voting record extends from January, 1987, when she first took office.

Zaffirini’s work ethic also is reflected in her 100 percent perfect attendance in the Texas Senate since 1987, except for breaking quorum deliberately in 2003 to block an egregious, partisan redistricting plan that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 ruled violated the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchised voters in her Senatorial District 21. Because no votes could be taken in the absence of a quorum, her 100 percent voting record remained unbroken.

“Every vote I cast in the Texas Senate reflects my commitment to balance the needs of my Senate District 21 constituents with those of our great state,” Zaffirini said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference, especially for the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities.”

In 1997, State Legislatures magazine highlighted her 15,000th consecutive vote in an article titled, 15,000 and Still Counting: The Tireless Texan. No one responded to the magazine’s request for information about similar records in any other state. When she approached 30,000 consecutive votes in 2003, The Alcalde, the official alumni magazine of The University of Texas at Austin, called her the “Cal Ripken of the Texas Legislature.”

(Cal Ripken Jr., who played for the Baltimore Orioles from 1981 through 2001, holds many records in professional baseball, but it is his  breaking of Lou Gehrig’s (1903–1941) record of 2,131  consecutive games played that gained him so many admirers, who call him  the “Iron Man” of baseball.)

Zaffirini has been recognized routinely as one of the best and hardest-working legislators in Texas. This year, Texas Monthly named her to its list of “10 Best Legislators” for the fourth time. In 2009 the magazine noted Zaffirini’s tenacity in championing the interests of her constituents: “No one works harder. No one is more organized. No one is more relentless.”

“Hard work and preparation are keys to making the best policy choices,” Zaffirini said. “When we secure funding or pass legislation for medical education, immunization, AIDS medication, clean and plentiful water and other critical issues, we literally make life or death decisions.”

The second-highest ranking member of the Texas Senate, Zaffirini passed 77 bills during the 2011 legislative session, bringing her total to 725 since 1987. Her recent successes include passing bills to improve government efficiency and eliminate unnecessary spending, to enhance financial aid programs and to protect persons with disabilities.

In January, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst appointed Zaffirini to serve as Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and as a member of the Administration, Economic Development, Finance, Health and Human Services and Redistricting committees.

In May he appointed her Co-Chair, with Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, of the newly-created Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency.

The senior senator for Bexar County and for the border region, Zaffirini also serves on the Legislative Budget Board.

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Student loans drop to 3.4 percent interest rate under Democratic Party reforms in Congress

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

On July 1, reforms enacted under Democratic leadership in Congress in 2007 will go into effect to make college more affordable for students and student loans more manageable for recent graduates.

The interest rate of need-based student loans will drop to a low 3.4 percent, fulfilling a Democratic promise of cutting the interest in half over four years. The average graduate of the class of 2012 will have saved $2,570 over the life of their loan.

“We must invest in our students who are this country’s future by making higher education more affordable and accessible,” said Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. “Democrats in Congress made a commitment to our students, that we would help them achieve their dreams of obtaining a college degree and pursuing successful careers. These are tough economic times for everyone, but we should all help students to succeed. Their success will keep our country competitive in the global economy. This drop in the interest rate is just one way to help them out.”

Under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the Democratic Congress made historic investments in student aid at no new cost to taxpayers. The law halved interest rates on need-based federal student loans over four years – making these loans more affordable for low- and middle-income students.

Additional reforms for student loan borrowers, passed under Democratic leadership, include:

Historic investments in the Pell Grant

The Pell Grant scholarship for the upcoming school year will remain at $5,550, thanks to investment and protections from Democrats in Congress. In the upcoming school year, 9.4 million students are expected to rely on the Pell Grant to help pay for college.

Income Based Repayment (IBR)

Under IBR, borrowers are required to pay no more than 15 percent of any discretionary income (15 percent of what a borrower earns above 150 percent of the poverty level for their family size). After 25 years of lower payments, borrowers’ remaining loan balances, including interest, will be completely forgiven.

Starting in 2014, new borrowers who are eligible for Income-Based Repayment will be able to cap their monthly loan payments at just 10 percent of their discretionary income. Borrowers who responsibly make their monthly payments will see their remaining balance forgiven after 20 years of repayment.

Public service loan forgiveness

This program provides loan forgiveness to college graduates who enter public service professions after ten years of public service and federal student loan repayments. Eligible public servants include firefighters, public defenders and prosecutors, first responders, law enforcement officers, early childhood educators and men and women serving in the military, and more.

••••••

South Texas College anticipates final state approval for new third university-level degree

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

South Texas College is one step closer to offering a third Bachelor of Applied Technology (BAT) degree.

The new Bachelor of Applied Technology in Medical and Health Services Management received conditional approval in late June from the Strategic Planning and Policy Committee of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

The committee recommendation moves forward to the full Coordinating Board for review and approval on July 28 to begin offering classes in fall 2011.

THECB committee members complimented STC’s responsiveness to the workforce development needs of the Valley and reinforced that the college is on the cutting edge of developing new programs for Texas.

The STC BAT Program began in 2005 and has seen continued growth, graduating 310 students from the program to date, with an additional 54 graduates expected in August 2011. Four hundred more students are currently enrolled in the college’s BAT Program.

“As a community college we have a unique opportunity to prepare students with classroom knowledge, but also practical, technical, hands-on skills; that is the foundation of the success of our BAT program,” said STC Chief Academic Officer Juan E. Mejía. “It’s why we have a five year average job placement rate of more than 90 percent – our BAT graduates are ready for the job on day one and in the medical field, there is no time to spare.”

The new STC BAT degree will prepare graduates for entry to mid-level management positions at health care or medical facilities. Coursework will focus on health care facility management principles, technological innovation in delivery of health care services, health information processing technology and government regulations related to health care services.

Program graduates will be in a position to provide valuable expertise in the areas of health care systems management, finance, medical staff roles and responsibilities, reimbursement mechanisms, electronic medical records, privacy issues and legal issues related to the health care industry. The average median hourly earnings projected for program graduates is $27.92 per hour.

“The medical and health services management field is expected to expand in the Rio Grande Valley by almost 30 percent in the next 10 years, so we are working to fill that demand with smart, skilled local professionals,” Mejía explained. “STC’s divisions of Nursing and Allied Health and Business and Technology are producing record numbers of graduates that are perfect candidates for the program. It makes sense because it gives our associate degree graduates the opportunity to continue growing as professionals in this booming field. We look forward to continuing to respond to the needs of our communities with these kinds of innovative programs.”

STC President Shirley A. Reed presented petitions in support of the new degree by elected officials and area leaders, including Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, who provided letters of support.

Also endorsing the addition of the new university-level degree were the South Texas state legislation, including Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, along with Rep. Verónica González, D-McAllen, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg.

Regional leaders also signed letters of petition including Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos, as well as the mayors of the cities of Alamo, Alton, Edcouch, Edinburg, Hidalgo, La Grulla, La Joya, La Villa, McAllen, Mercedes, Mission, Palmview, Palmhurst, Pharr, San Juan, Rio Grande City, Roma and Weslaco.

“We are very grateful to each of our supporters for their votes of confidence in the college,” Reed said. “STC is proud to be one of only three Texas community colleges accredited to offer Bachelor of Applied Technology degrees.  We have earned the trust and confidence of our elected officials and employers because we have demonstrated our ability to develop high quality new programs leading to high-wage jobs and we have done it very well. We have set the state and national standard by developing rigorous programs and the proof is in our results.”

“I also want to add that the support we received from all members of the THECB, especially Assistant Commissioner MacGregor Stephenson and Program Director Van Davis, has been phenomenal,” Mejía continued. “Drs. Stephenson and Davis are both champions for having institutions of higher learning meeting the needs of our communities by providing access to quality academic programs targeted at our regional needs, all at an affordable tuition.”

STC is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as a Level II-baccalaureate granting institution.

For additional information about STC’s Bachelors program visit:

http://www.southtexascollege.edu/ba/BAT

or call 956/872-7270 or 956/872-2036.

••••••

Congressman Hinojosa announces $399,981 national science foundation grant for high tech science program at UT-Pan American

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, has announced the National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Texas-Pan American a grant for $399,981 for a science project that will develop self-assembling systems that could change the way we use computers and even medicine.

The goal of the self-assembling systems is to design groups of molecules which, when mixed together, autonomously and automatically form themselves into structures. These self-assembling systems are developed into mathematical models and software.

“The UTPA Science Department is setting a high standard for research and development of new and innovative ideas in the world of science,” said Hinojosa. “The scientists and researchers at UTPA continue to hold the highest standards in their respective fields. The funding from these grants allows the departments and programs at UTPA to expand, providing the best educational environment for our students in Deep South Texas.”

Currently proposed directions for nanoscale (a very small scale of measurement) self-assembly includes ideas such as helping to create next generation computer processors which could be smaller, faster and use less power, creating useful materials which are “atomically precise.”

Achieving such a standard of measurement means that once built, the computer processors are composed of atoms which are in precisely defined locations. This could mean making structures as we now know them to be stronger and lighter.

Another possibility of this research involves biomedical applications such as creating “smart drugs” which can enter the body and perform basic forms of computations to determine where a disease is in the body and then deliver drugs to the direct area.

The “Explorations of Theoretical Models of Self-Assembly” project is under the direction of Dr. Matthew Patitz. This research is in its infancy at this stage and requires more study.

Once achieved, there could be more possibilities to advance science and technology.

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U.S. House passes amendment by Congressman Cuellar to update flood-zone maps in Texas

By JOSÉ BORJON

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, has successfully included an amendment in the National Flood Reform Act, which will directly benefit flood-prone communities with outdated flood zone maps in the 28th District of Texas.

It addresses local concerns by strengthening relationships among the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state emergency agencies, and local communities to have a steady and productive process for updating flood zone maps.

The bill – H.R. 1309 – passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday evening, July 12, by a vote of 406 to 22. It now moves to Senate for consideration.

“Homeowners and businesses in South Texas have been hit by flood disaster yearly,” Cuellar said. “In speaking with my constituents, I learned that flood zone maps in the 28th District of Texas had not been updated for decades. My amendment will decrease the prevalence of outdated flood maps by requiring increased communications and assistance between federal, state and local entities.”

Specifically, the amendment requires FEMA, state emergency agencies and communities where flood insurance rate maps have not been updated in 20 years or more to enhance communications to resolve outstanding issues and provide necessary, tailored information to decrease the prevalence of outdated flood zone maps.

“A flood-threatened area with outdated flood zone maps is contradictory and can result in serious problems for the region,” Cuellar said. “I am pleased this bipartisan legislation passed the House of Representatives – I will continue to ensure that flood-threatened communities are protected and provided the necessary resources.”

H.R. 1309, Flood Insurance Reform Act reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through September 30, 2016. The bill also makes numerous changes to the program, which provides federally subsidized insurance to homeowners, renters and businesses if their community participates in the NFIP. The bill provides authority to temporarily suspend mandatory purchase requirements for those in special flood hazard areas. The National Flood Insurance Program is the primary source for reliable, affordable flood insurance coverage for 5.6 million American homes and businesses.

The bill is supported by many organizations, including the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Homebuilders, the American Insurance Association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association, and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.

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Brownsville attorney Ray Marchan accused of bribing former District Judge Abel Limas

By ANGELA DODGE

A federal grand jury has indicted an attorney for his alleged involvement in the former State Judge Abel Limas’ use of his then state court as a racketeering enterprise, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno has announced.

The seven-count indictment returned under seal on Tuesday, 21, 2011, was unsealed on Wednesday, June 22, at the initial appearance of Ray Román Marchan, 54, of Port Isabel, before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. Marchan was arrested on the morning of June 22 by FBI agents at his home and was ordered released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond pending trial on the charges.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.

A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Marchan is a licensed Texas attorney who has practiced law in South Texas for many years with a focus on personal injury cases.

The now unsealed indictment arising from the joint investigative efforts of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Brownsville Police Department of former 404th Judicial District State Court Judge Abel Corral Limas.

Marchan is charged with seven felony counts arising from his alleged involvement with Limas in using the 404th judicial district court as a racketeering enterprise. Marchan is charged with racketeering in aid of a criminal organization (RICO) as well as aiding and abetting extortion, in violation of  the “Hobbs Act,” and aiding and abetting a scheme to deprive the citizens of Cameron County of the honest services of an elected official.

According to allegations in the indictment, Marchan paid $5,000 in bribe money to Limas in exchange for favorable rulings in a civil case pending in Limas’ court which he was handling, as well as several payments totaling $6,200 in return for an ad litem appointment in a personal injury case. In the Limas indictment unsealed earlier this year, Marchan is allegedly “Person D.”

Marchan faces a maximum prison term of 30 years, a fine of up to $250,000 and a five-year-term of supervised release if convicted of deprivation of honest services count while the RICO violation and the Hobbs Act charges carry a maximum punishment of 20 years incarceration and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

It is expected that the case will be set for trial later this year before Judge Andrew Hanen.

Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Wynne and Óscar Ponce are prosecuting the case.

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McAllen federal jury convicts Mission man of kidnapping his wife after she asked for divorce

By ANGELA DODGE

A federal jury in McAllen on Tuesday, July 12, convicted Óscar Francisco Ramírez, 26, of Mission, of kidnapping his wife, U.S. Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced.

The jury returned its verdict that afternoon. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, who presided over Ramírez’ trial, has set sentencing for September 20, 2011. By statute, Ramírez faces up to life in federal prison without parole and a fine of up to $250,000 for the conviction.

During trial in federal court in McAllen, the jury heard the testimony of several witnesses including the victim, Ramírez’ wife and one of his children.

The victim testified that on June 9, 2010, she had asked Ramírez for a divorce. According to her testimony, on that day, Ramírez drove her and her children to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Mission. As soon as the children got out of the car, Ramírez drove her away against her will.

One of the children also testified, telling the jury he saw Ramírez drive off with the victim.

The victim told the jury as Ramírez drove toward the Mexican border, she begged him to stop and let her out. She tried to jump out of the moving vehicle, but could not, because Ramírez was holding onto her. He drove at high-speed through the Anzaldúas International Bridge into Reynosa.

While in the car, Ramírez threatened to make her pay and told her it would be a long time before her family ever found her. Once in Reynosa, the victim was able to escape from Ramírez and after several hours made her way back to the U.S. through the Hidalgo Port of Entry.

A Mission police investigator also testified. She told the jury she was driving an unmarked police unit when she saw the vehicle Ramírez was driving weaving in and out of rush hour traffic in Mission at high rate of speed.

When the investigator pulled closer, she saw a woman trying to jump out of the moving vehicle and struggling with the male driver, who was pulling her by her hair. Because her unmarked vehicle did not have any lights or sirens, the investigator radioed for backup. A marked unit arrived, activated its lights and sirens, passed the investigator and together the investigator and the marked unit chased Ramírez.

They chased Ramírez, who drove at a high rate of speed, onto the bridge that leads to Reynosa past the Anzaldúas Port of Entry; however, they were forced  to stop and turn around before they reached the border. Ramírez continued into Mexico with the victim.

Ramírez was initially charged by state authorities, but was transferred into federal custody in February 2011 after the filing of a criminal complaint. A federal grand jury sitting in McAllen indicted him for kidnapping on March 9, 2011.

Ramírez has been in custody without bond since his arrest and will remain in custody pending sentencing. This case, investigated by the FBI, the FBI Safe Street Task Force and the Mission Police Department, was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Leo III and Christopher Sully.

••••••

Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion on September 17 to raise money for restoration of Edinburg Depot

By EVANA VLECK

Hobos around Edinburg are packing up and on the trail to the historic Edinburg Depot, the home of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. They are hopping on board to support the Depot Restoration Project and getting spiffed up to participate in the Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion, scheduled on Saturday, September 17 at the Chamber Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive.

“We are inviting all past presidents, board members, volunteers and the current chamber investors to join us in September as we host the Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion,” said Elva Jackson Garza, chairman of the Depot Restoration Committee. “This will be a very special event as it will bring civic and business leaders who were instrumental in the original renovation project that started in 1994. It’s time we come together again for a very important cause as we restore one of Edinburg’s most important treasures built in 1927.”

The Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion will offer live entertainment courtesy of the River Rock Band, live and silent blackboard auctions, a delicious dinner and much more.

Maggie Kent and City Councilmember Elias Longoria, Jr., both vice chairs of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce board of directors, are teaming up to secure the live and silent auction items.

“We anticipate several large items will be auctioned off and we are very pleased with the support we have received from the Chamber members and businesses that support historic preservation,” said Kent.

Underwriters that have committed their support of the event to date are:

  • Hacienda Ford;
  • Inter National Bank;
  • H.E.B.;
  • Sam Saldivar, Sr., State Farm Insurance;
  • Betty Gaston, Gaston Properties; and
  • Texas Gas Service.

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is accepting underwriter sponsorships and donations of live and silent auction items.  The deadline to be included in the auctions program is Monday, July 18.

For more information on how you can help preserve a piece of history, contact Letty González, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, at 383-4974 or chamber@edinburg.com or Elva Jackson Garza, vice president/marketing manager at Edwards Abstract and Title Co. at 383-4951 or elva.garza@edwards-titleco.com.

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